Santorum Surging Into The Lead Nationally

Once again, the face of the Republican race has changed.

For the second time since voting started in early January, it looks like Rick Santorum is surging into the lead nationally thanks in large part to his big night in last Tuesday’s primaries and the fact that Newt Gingrich is apparently sinking while Mitt Romney continues to fail to close the deal with the conservative base. The last time this happened, shortly after the Iowa Caucuses, it was over in the blink of an eye largely because Santorum’s campaign was unable to capitalize on the rise in the polls either in terms of voter support or fundraising. It’s unclear whether things will be any different this time around, but nonetheless Rick Santorum is getting his second act and only time will tell what he’ll be able to do with it. We saw some evidence of a Santorum rise late last week in a poll from Public Policy Polling that showed Santorum jumping to huge lead nationally and in Michigan. At the time, I questioned the accuracy of these polls because they seemed inconsistent with other polling, but now we have corroboration that there is indeed a Santorum sure going on.

The first evidence for this came yesterday in a new Pew Research poll showing Santorum leading Gingrich, albeit within the margin of error:

Rick Santorum’s support among Tea Party Republicans and white evangelicals is surging, and he now has pulled into a virtual tie with Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. In polling conducted Feb. 8-12, 30% of Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters favor Santorum while 28% favor Romney. As recently as a month ago, Romney held a 31% to 14% advantage over Santorum among all GOP voters.

Santorum is now the clear favorite of Republican and GOP-leaning voters who agree with the Tea Party, as well as white evangelical Republicans. Currently, 42% of Tea Party Republican voters favor Santorum, compared with just 23% who back Romney. Santorum holds an almost identical advantage among white evangelical Republican voters (41% to 23%).

(…)

In the early GOP primaries, Romney has struggled at times in winning over the conservative elements of the Republican electorate – Tea Party supporters, conservatives and white evangelical Republicans. The new poll shows that nationally he trails Santorum among all three groups.

In contrast, Romney holds leads over Santorum among non-Tea Party Republicans (34% to 19%) and moderate and liberal Republicans (34% to 20%).

While Santorum holds a substantial advantage over Romney among white evangelical Republicans, he also runs about even with Romney among white mainline Protestants (24% Santorum, 30% Romney).

Romney also trails Santorum among Republican and GOP-leaning voters who have not completed college (33% to 24%). Romney leads among Republican college graduates (39% to 25%).

As we’ve seen in the past, one of Romney’s biggest problems ends up being the doubts among Republican voters about the candidate’s conservatism, doubts that seem to reassert themselves every time Romney slips in polls. In the current poll, only 42% of those surveyed say they consider Romney a “strong conservative,” and those numbers are significantly higher among Republicans who described themselves as strongly conservative and/or Tea Party supporters. The numbers for Santorum aren’t included in the poll release but one can presume that they are higher than the numbers for Romney, which is likely one of the reasons that he is again surging in the polls.

Santorum is also leading in a new CBS/New York Times poll:

After his surprise triple victories in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, Rick Santorum has begun soaring among Republican primary voters, erasing Mitt Romney’s lead in the race for the party’s presidential nomination.

A New York Times/CBS News poll released Tuesday morning showed Mr. Santorum surging among Republican primary voters nationwide, lifted by support among conservatives, evangelical Christians and Tea Party supporters.

In the new poll, 30 percent of Republican primary voters say they support Mr. Santorum, compared with 27 percent for Mr. Romney. While Mr. Santorum’s lead is essentially a tie with Mr. Romney because it is within the margin of sampling error, it reflects a significant jump for him from earlier polls.

The two other major candidates are further behind, at 12 percent for Ron Paul and 10 percent for Newt Gingrich. Mr. Gingrich’s numbers have fallen sharply since his win in South Carolina on Jan. 21.

(…)

Mr. Santorum’s bump is largely fueled by increased support from self-described conservatives, evangelical Christians and Tea Party supporters. The poll shows Mr. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, backed by nearly four in 10 voters from each of these groups; last month, no candidate was the clear favorite among these voters.

At the same time, another result in the poll underscores the race’s continuing fluidity. A majority of voters (six in 10) who expressed a candidate preference said they could still change their mind – down from 74 percent who said so a month ago, but enough to potentially mix things up again.

Finally, the new Gallup Daily Tracking Poll shows the same Santorum lead, and the sane same statistical tie:

PRINCETON, NJ — Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are now statistically tied for the lead in Republican registered voters’ preferences for the 2012 GOP nomination — 32% to 30%, respectively. Newt Gingrich, who led the field as recently as late January, is now third, favored by 16%, while Ron Paul’s support has dwindled to 8%, the lowest level yet seen for him in 2012.

These results are based on Gallup Daily tracking from Feb. 8-12 — the first Gallup tracking period conducted wholly after Santorum’s sweep of the Feb. 7 state nominating contests.

Santorum’s 14-point surge in support since just before Feb. 7, from 16% to 30%, appears to have come at the expense of all of his major opponents. Support for Romney and Gingrich has declined by five and six percentage points, respectively, over the same period, and support for Paul, by three points. The percentage unsure has increased slightly, from 11% to 13%.

There are a few caveats to note about each of these polls, of course. For one thing, each poll is surveyed registered rather than likely voters, a measure which may not be entirely accurate now that we are actually in the middle of primary battles. For another, the sample sizes of Republican voters in each poll is relatively small compared to the overall sample size so there may be some inaccuracies there. Finally, as I’ve noted before, national polling doesn’t really tell us very much about where the primary battle stands right now or where it might go. Just as with the General Election race after Labor Day, the real battles are at the state level and those are the polls that really matter. To a large degree, these national polls are merely reflective of trends at the state level and reflections of the kind of bandwagon effect that happens when one candidate or another scores a victory. For example, Gallup notes that the race so far has tended to show a bounce for victorious candidates:

So if you’re  looking for a real idea of where the race stands right now, watch the state-level polls far more closely than the national ones. Nonetheless here’s where things stand in the latest RealClearPolitics chart:

So there you have it, another week, another candidate rising to challenge Mitt Romney. This time, things seem to be breaking Santorum’s way but, as we’ve learned, the news cycle moves so fast at this point that it’s hard to say that this is what the race will look like two weeks from now when Michigan and Arizona vote.

Update:  This afternoon, CNN released a poll showing Santorum and Romney in a statistical tie, although there are suggestions of a developing gender gap:

A large gender gap appears to be developing between supporters of GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, as well as a split between white collar and blue collar Republicans, according to a new national survey.

A CNN/ORC International poll also indicates that Santorum supporters are much more highly motivated than those backing Romney.

“The new numbers indicate a split in the Republican party that goes deeper than ideology, with signs of a gender gap and class warfare breaking out in the GOP ranks,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

According to the survey, released Tuesday afternoon, Santorum and Romney are basically all tied up for the lead in the race for the GOP nomination. Thirty four percent of Republicans and independents who lean towards the GOP say they back Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, with 32% backing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who has been at or near the top of national polling over the past year. Santorum’s two point margin over Romney is well within the survey’s sampling error.

(…)

Santorum’s newfound support may be coming from Republicans who backed candidates who are no longer in the race, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry. But the poll also indicates that Santorum’s surge is also the product of a notable gender gap, with Santorum holding a 10-point edge among Republican men and Romney winning Republican women by nine points. And Republicans who describe themselves as blue collar are backing Santorum by 11 points over Romney. But among those who say they come from white collar families, Romney has a 10-point advantage.

Look for the battle in Michigan to get a lot more interesting.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. The face has changed, the pattern remains the same.

  2. @Doug: In response to your story summary, I would say that “Once again the polls have changed.” I think that the fundamentals of this race, however, remain in place.

  3. Brummagem Joe says:

    Yeah Doug. Remember those two polls in MI that were outliers I see there’s a third showing the same pattern. If Gingrich collapses his support is probably going to Santorum which must be worrying Romney and the inside the beltway crowd who thought Romney had this sown up. I still think he’s the favorite but that a zero like Santorum is moving into the lead shows just how much he is disliked by the conservative base. I wonder have you ever done a Santorum as nominee scenario… I’m bound to say I haven’t but anything is possible in today’s GOP.

  4. Fiona says:

    If I were Romney, I’d be getting a bit nervous. All that money, all that establishment support, and yet a guy ridiculed as Mr. Man-Dog love and beaten down by 18 points in his last race, whose candidacy was seen as pretty much of a joke, is now ahead in the polls of my “home” state. Where’s the love?

    I’m not so sure Romney is the inevitable nominee.

  5. Here’s one for you, Doug. I challenge you to blog this:

    Occupy’s amazing Volcker Rule letter

    It would help you to assuage those critics who say you can’t see past drum circles and jazz hands.

  6. sam says:

    Mitt must be wondering how he can keep his pants up what with all these guys taking a big bite out his ass on a monthly basis.

  7. mattb says:

    Serious question: would a Romney/Santorum ticket work? I.e. a reverse Reagan/Bush?

    It strikes me that Santorum has a solid VP temperament –he can get the base going, but isn’t necessarily a wild card. Nor, on stage, does he necessarily outshine the main candidate.

    Anyone know if any polling has been done around that particular ticket?

  8. michael reynolds says:

    The Money! wing of the GOP is with Romney.

    The Jesus! wing of the GOP is with Santorum.

    The Bombs! wing of the GOP is with Netanyahu.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Fiona:

    Where’s the love?

    This has been my take for a while now. No one loves this guy. You need love. You need people who will walk through fire for you.

  10. Hoyticus says:

    Santorum uses the rhetoric of a warmongerer, how could so many people consider voting for him?

  11. EddieInCA says:

    $100 to Santorum for President.

    Go Rick!

  12. Rob in CT says:

    So,

    Given the pattern… does Ron Paul get a shot at last not-Romney standing?

  13. Kylopod says:

    I don’t think Santorum will be the nominee, but I think his surge has potentially bigger long-term consequences than the Gingrich surge in at least one respect: I think the chances are increasing dramatically that Santorum will be Romney’s running mate in the fall.

  14. mattb says:

    @Kylopod:
    Glad I’m not the only one. And I suspect that ticket could have significant legs (in a way that McCain/Palin did not).

  15. Moosebreath says:

    Hoyticus,

    “”Santorum uses the rhetoric of a warmongerer, how could so many people consider voting for him?”

    Because that is not merely not a disqualifier in a Republican primary, it is something which has always played well. After all, the prior nominee sang “Bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”.

  16. EddieInCA says:

    All kidding aside, if Romney loses Michigan to Santorum, all bets are off. Which southern states can Romney win if the Anti-Romney votes coalesce around Santorum? Romney can barely hit 30% in primaries without a large Mormon population.

    Where will Romney’s coalition come from to win over conservative voters, especially if he goes negative in order to destroy Santorum the way he destroyed Gingrich?

  17. Scott F. says:

    @mattb:

    How does that ticket have legs?

  18. Bleev K says:

    Here’s my analysis: républicains are morons.

  19. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Here in California the Santorum surge is so overwhelming only about half the voting age public never has heard of him.

  20. mattb says:

    @Scott F.:
    We know that Santorum speaks to a large subsection of the base (and will most likely pick up the Newt supporters who don’t go to Romney). And I think he brings enough red meat to the ticket to get them to hold their nose and vote form Romney (similar to what Palin did in ’08).

    And I also suspect that Santorum appeals to moderate republicans far more than Palin ever did. Part of that could come down to gender.

    But most of that comes down to presentation. Like Romney and Paul, Santorum has never given the impression that he’s either on a book tour or auditioning for FNC. And, like it or not, he’s done a lot to project an aura of “conciseness and serious conservative” in recent weeks (see the Florida debate and in a number of his primary/caucus day speeches).

  21. DRS says:

    I’m feeling whimsical today so I’m wondering what will happen at the Republican convention if Santorum gets the nod. Will Romney scream “NOOOOOOO!!!!!!” and lunge at Rick as he stands at the podium and have to be pulled away by security guards? Will our last view of Mitt be kicking feet and flailing limbs as he’s sedated just beyond the rear curtain and carted out of the building? One can only hope.

  22. DRS says:

    Why is “security” a live link in my last post? I didn’t do anything to it.

  23. Scott F. says:

    @mattb:
    OK. I don’t disagree with any of that.

    I thought you were suggesting that Romney/Santorum would play better in a general election than McCain/Palin. And I just don’t see that.

  24. mattb says:

    @Scott F.:
    Beyond how it does with the base, I don’t think it’s possible to compare ’08 and ’12 tickets when it comes to anyone else. There are just way too many factors.

    All that said, I have a general suspicion that a Romney/Santorum ticket would have done better in 08 than the McCain/Palin ticket did. But that could just be the drugs speaking.

  25. Gromitt Gunn says:

    From the article:

    Currently, 42% of Tea Party Republican voters favor Santorum, compared with just 23% who back Romney. Santorum holds an almost identical advantage among white evangelical Republican voters (41% to 23%).

    Why do pollsters and the MSM keep pretending these are different groups?

  26. Tillman says:

    I still think he’s the favorite but that a zero like [insert name here] is moving into the lead shows just how much he is disliked by the conservative base.

    This is pretty much what the primary season has been: Romney failing to become inevitable.

  27. Tillman says:

    @DRS: I think Mitt’s got enough self-control to lose it after the lights are off. But the Stepford Smile that would form on his face after Santorum gets the nod and he has to endorse him for president? Oh, it could cut his head clean in half.

  28. Brummagem Joe says:

    The Schadenfreude runneth over. If Santorum pulled it off they would be lining up to throw themselves onto Mitt’s funeral pyre. He’s probably not going to manage it but the image remains in the mind.